Culture

Estonia And The Wisdom Of The Ages

The boat is shallow draft, some 40-feet long and 18-feet of beam, tar pitched, almost clinker built, wide on the Mother of Rivers, the Emajõgi. For 600 years these boats, with their single square sails, plied the Mother of Rivers from Estonia half way to Moscow with spices, returning with furs.

The last of these boats worked some 70 years ago. A federation of Estonians have gathered lost knowledge and built just one, wide on the river, easing its way, Estonian pastries for the guests, of which I am one. Magic.

Eleven thousand years ago these Finno-Ugric-Altaic peoples came here. Just in time, they say, for a 50-meter drop in the Baltic at the end of the last Ice Age. As it retreated, what may have been an ice-bound Baltic came into free contact with the surrounding region.

Estonian is, in fact, close to Finnish and far from Hungarian. Latvia and Lithuania, the two more southern Baltic states, stretching to Poland, speak Indo-European languages. But they are only distantly related to the Germanic and Latin-rooted languages of much of Europe, or the Slavic languages.

When and where did these Balts come from?

Did any of you read Gorbachev's Perestroika when it came out? I did in about 1987. Here was, perhaps, the only wise statesman of the Cold War saying how stupid we all were with Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), that Communist economic plans failed. "My God," I thought. "The most brilliant international mind, and head of the Soviet Union!" Change was upon us.

It is Gorbachev who refused to repeat the 1956 rape of rebellious Hungary, crushing that revolution with Soviet tanks. No, the Velvet Revolution in Prague, the Wall torn down, the quiet refusal to suppress Baltic resurgence following brave Poland's Solidarity movement all moved forward without facing the full might of the Soviet military.

The Baltic states were freed. The Estonians, inventors of Skype, lest you think this far corner of Europe is devoid of sophistication, flourish.

My new friend, wonderful Kalevi Kull, head of the best department of Biosemiotics on the planet, at Tartu University, drives a wedge in the neo-Darwinian synthesis that scoffs at "meaning" and "symbols."

Kalevi points out that a bacterium with trans-membrane proteins, where an arbitrary ligand can bind outside the cell and cause a response via cell signalling inside the cell, constitute an arbitrary code whereby the cell "knows" its world semiotically and navigates that world.

Kalevi is right. There is more I shall blog about related to this, in which I claim that Jacques Monod's "Teleonomy" an "as if" appearance of doing, and purpose, is wrong. But that hint is for another time.

Now I ask you to sip the magic of Estonians, extant on their land for 11,000 years, ripe with the Son of Kalevala, again an oral tradition rocked hand in hand before the fire for 11,000 years of telling, down through the ages. Some bards knew 20,000 lines. As I said in my last post, the Kalevala and Son of Kalavela, with their neolithic or paleolithic roots, make Chaucer seem like a charming 15th-century As the World Turns.

Eleven thousand years, with the Baltic dropping 50 meters in a year as the ice sheets retreated.

How old we really are, with accumulated wisdom if we will be wise enough to heed it.

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